IRA Special Manifesto, August 29th 1942 and the ‘northern campaign’

In the days leading up to the execution of Tom Williams in 1942, the IRA released a ‘Special Manifesto‘ as a printed circular on Sunday 30th August, largely written by John Graham and Hugh McAteer. This was the day following a reprieve for five of Williams’ co-accused. This ‘Special Manifesto‘ is often presented as a proclamation and treated as the beginning of a ‘northern campaign’ (eg see Bowyer-Bell’s Secret Army). But the actual text, reproduced in full below, doesn’t support that interpretation. True, arms had been moved in place. Indeed, a significant dump at Budore, near Hannahstown, was captured on the Monday after the ‘Special Manifesto’ was issued, leading to the death of IRA volunteer Gerry O’Callaghan. But the relocation of arms into dumps in the north was in anticipation of a campaign, not as a prelude (and as a much a reflection of the formal shift of the IRA’s centre to Belfast from that July).

The September issue of Republican News, published almost two weeks later on 11th September, specifically states that, following Williams’ execution, “…neither the passions of the people, nor the fiery demand for action of the Volunteers, will make the Army authorities enter into hasty or unplanned action.” In reality, there was no ‘northern campaign’. The manifesto even goes as far as making reference to the “…resumption of hostilities between Great Britain and the Irish Republic…” indicating a tacit acceptance that the military campaign against Britain that had been declared in January 1939 was effectively suspended (if not over, which was the reality by 1940). It is notable here that the formal cancellation of the 1939 campaign in March 1945, by a reconvened Army Council under Paddy Fleming, made no mention of a ‘northern campaign’. In effect, IRA operations that took place in September 1942 were a response to Williams’ execution, rather than a formal campaign (I will post more on this in the next few days).

In the meantime, here is the text of the ‘Special Manifesto‘ below.

Óglaigh na hÉireann, Irish Republican Army, Special Manifesto, Saturday August 29th 1942

Purpose of the Manifesto

It had been decided that the moment is opportune to restate the National principles actuating the Irish Republican Army, and to declare its attitude in relation to the present world situation in the light of those principles. The publication of this manifesto should not only remove misapprehension from the public mind, but provide an effective answer to the mischievous and mendacious propaganda constantly emanating from anti-Republican sources.

Policy of the Army

The present policy of the Irish Republican Army is set out in the following points:

(1) The Irish Republican Army is determined to obtain and maintain the right of the people of Ireland to the unfettered control of Irish destinies, guaranteeing civil and religious liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens. The maintenance of sectarian strife forms no part of the policy of the Irish Republican Army, which is conscious of the national pride permeating men of all creeds within its ranks. It believes that the Nation’s sovereignty extends not only to all the mend and women of the Nation, but to all its resources; all the wealth and all the wealth-producing processes of the Nation.

(2) The Irish Republican Army cannot recognize the right of England or any other power to maintain forces in, or base them on, any part of the Irish territory without the free consent of the Irish people.

(3) In view of the fact that the free consent of the Irish people has not been obtained for the present occupation of Northeast Ireland by British and allied forces, the Irish Republican Army reserves the right to use whatever measures present themselves to clear this territory of such forces.

(4) While prepared to accept aid, as in the past, from their exiled brethren in America, or those nations which understand and recognize the right of the Irish people to full control of their own destiny, the Irish Republican Army, being essentially a national organisation, cannot be used, nor will it be used, as a pawn in the hands of foreign Powers.

The Situation Today

In so far the present world situation is concerned, the Irish Republican Army cannot recognize the right of English and American forces to utilize the industrial and agricultural resources of this country of the furtherance of their war plans. The occupation of a part of Ireland by British and American forces is in itself an act of aggression; likewise would we regard the invasion of any part of Ireland by any other foreign Power against the wishes of the Irish people.

Ireland and its resources belong first and essentially to the Irish people; therefore, the occupation of any part of Ireland by any foreign Power for its own ends, whether in the guise of a protector or of a deliverer, is a usurpation of Ireland’s national integrity. Furthermore, the government of the Irish Republic being the de jure government of all Ireland, and the Irish Republican Army being its legally constituted armed force, we declare that any attempt, by whomsoever it may be made, to convert any portion of Ireland into an international cockpit, will be challenged by us.

Attitude to American Troops in Ireland

Britain occupies six of the nine counties of the historic Irish province of Ulster. She does so in defiance of the expressed wish of the Irish people, of whom she is, and always has been, the traditional enemy. The thousands of American troops now stationed at Britain’s invitation in this territory, may sincerely believe that they are preparing to fight in the cause of liberty and justice for all men. The Irish Republican Army has been and is at present preparing to fight for the same cause — In Ireland.

The Irish people have no quarrel with the citizens of the United States of America, but strongly resent the unjustifiable occupation of a part of Ireland by American armed forces.

It will be, undoubtedly, part of Britain’s tactics to provoke conflict between American troops and Irish guerilla forces. If in the event of the resumption of hostilities between Great Britain and the Irish Republic, the American troops are drawn into conflict with Irish soldiers, the responsibility must rest with those who presumed to use North-east Ireland as a military base without the free consent of the Irish people.

The Responsibility for the Irish Situation

Britain has partitioned Ireland into six counties and twentysix. By dividing the country politically, she has rendered it helpless economically, and indefensible militarily. That this was no accident is evidenced by the statement of Lloyd George to Lord Carson in a letter of May 29th, 1916, setting out that “we must make it clear that…. Ulster does not, whether she willit or not, merge in the rest of Ireland.” The present situation arises immediately from the execution of this policy. If, therefore, in an effort to reassert finally and for all time their country’s right to complete national sovereignty and independence, the Army of the Irish Republic should avail itself of the darkest moment in England’s history to strike, the responsibility will rest with the people of Britain, who, while professing to serve the cause of freedom for all nations, have condoned for centuries the negation of democratic principles in Ireland.

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Falls Road election riots, 1938

Early in 1938 the northern government decided to introduce an oath for candidates standing for election. This stated that “I hereby declare that I intend, if elected as a member of the House of Commons of Northern Ireland, to take my seat in the said House after compliance with the law and the standing orders in that behalf.”


The oath effectively debarred republican candidates from standing since they refused to recognise the northern parliament. Despite its abstentionism, the IRA were active in electoral politics for much of the period up to 1938 and then, later, in supporting Sinn Féin from 1950 onwards. A similar oath had been in place since for several years for elections to the southern parliament (which effectively smoothed De Valera’s route to government since his republican opponents were effectively debarred from even standing in elections by their own abstentionist stance). The next election to the northern parliament was due on 9th February 1938.

In the aftermath of the oath, the Falls Road, in particular, saw running clashes between the RUC and republicans and riots over several nights before the election. This included clashes between republicans and supporters of the Nationalist Party, and, between supporters of the Northern Ireland Labour Party and Nationalist Party. Prior to the election the IRA had painted slogans on the gables of houses including “British Votes for British Slaves”, “Boycott the Elections”, “Make Byrne Arm” (Byrne was the Nationalist Party candidate in the Falls division), “Be British and Vote – Be Irish and Arm”. At least five people were injured and scores of windows broken in clashes.  Some streets witnessed running clashes between republicans and supporters of that Nationalist Party candidate, Alderman Richard Byrne (who had held the seat unopposed since 1929).

The night before the election, supporters of the Northern Ireland Labour Party candidate, John Glass, and followers of the Nationalist Party clashed in Clonard Street as a Nationalist Party procession was met by a hostile crowd. Four people were injured in the clashes which had occurred as the Nationalist Party procession literally bumped into a rally in support of John Glass. The Labour supporters reportedly had tricolours and booed the Nationalists, shouting “Up the Republic” and singing “A Soldier’s Song. They shouted down Richard Byrne when he tried to address them, haranguing him with “Get down you Catholic Orangeman!” and “What about the Republican Party!“. The latter suggests that the crowd also included republicans who were boycotting the election (otherwise, given that Glass had signed the required oath, the Labour supporters appear somewhat confused about their candidate’s status). The Nationalist Party supporters then started singing “A Nation Once Again” and scuffles broke out. The RUC then baton charged the crowd and the Labour and Nationalist Party supporters fought with each other and the RUC. Fireworks were also thrown at horses pulling a carriage that the Nationalists were using as a speaker’s platform.

The next day, when voting was to take place, Republicans and Nationalists clashed in Slate Street when the polling station there closed, with the Nationalists at one end singing “A Nation Once Again” and the republicans at the other end singing “A Soldier’s Song”, “Legion of the Rearguard” and “The Belfast Brigade”. The RUC then baton-charged the republicans which led to running battles in Sultan Street, Plevna Street and Raglan Street as the republicans used sticks and stones to defend themselves.

In the end Richard Byrne was returned with a majority of 667 votes over the Northern Ireland Labour Party’s John Glass (who was his only opponent). His majority had halved since his last actual election, against Billy McMullan in 1929.